Whispers to Shouts:
Indiana Women Who Create Art
Indiana State Museum
Feb. 5-July 10
Jo Legner paints and collages in a small Murphy Arts Center studio a floor above the Dolphin Papers store she manages by day. The studio is an old pay john with the 10-cent pay box still hanging on the door and the toilet intact in the corner.
Jo Legner: "I'm just painting what everyone is thinking about."
Legner painted the street-facing room pink and collaged the walls with big red blocks of paper. She finished decorating her space with a wall painting of a giant nude woman seen from behind. Rave music bounces off the high ceilings as she works. She named her studio The Little Pink Place.
Legner didn't begin painting seriously until 1999 when, at 25, she moved to Indianapolis. Since then, she has moved from her first solo show of fun anime-inspired pin-ups in 2001 to being part of Whispers to Shouts: Indiana Women Who Create Art running Feb. 5-July 10 at the Indiana State Museum. Other notables in the show include Mary Beth Edelson, Betsy Stirrat and Peg Fierke.
"Legner's work is different from anything else in the show," said Despi Ray, the museum's cultural program coordinator and co-curator of the show, which features 44 other artists. "In both style and medium, no one else here is working in paper the way she is."
Legner's painting in the show, "Papercut," is emotionally darker than most of the work that brought her initial acclaim from local critics. In this mixed media piece, a pig-tailed girl in a red skirt sadly places paper boats into a stream, as the sky grows stormy above. The boats and birds in the sky are attached origami pieces.
"I once felt painting something fun and cute would be my thing, then I realized that I needed to dig deeper and express what bothers me inside," Legner said. On Feb. 11, she'll also show work at the Dirty Show in Detroit. It's one of the largest attended erotic art shows in the world and one covered extensively by the national art magazine Juxtapoz.
"I think it's funny that more art isn't erotic - considering that eating, breathing and fucking are the basics in life," Legner said. "There's lots of little quiet paintings about the landscape, plenty about food but not as many about getting dirty with those you love.
"Erotic art is interesting, it provokes thought and emotion. I think that is why people look at art. I'm just painting what everyone is thinking about."
Legner grew up in La Porte, spending her teen days working at the mall, drawing pictures of babies and big-haired women with a ballpoint pen. After living in New York and Denver, she moved to Indianapolis and soon met artist and Murphy Art Center owner Phillip Campbell. He saw the potential in her right away.
"She was messing around with small things. I told her that I would give her a solo show if she made me 10 paintings that were at least 4 feet," Campbell said. "She started to paint but quickly moved into collaging and before I knew it she had an incredible group of 4-by-4 panels."
The highly successful show in 2001 consisted of 12 pieces such as the collage and acrylic piece "Kitty" - a smiling, well-endowed cat in a corset and thigh-high boots sitting in a chair. Eleven pieces sold.
Since then, her work has been part of several group shows at the Domont and Woodburn and Westcott galleries. Legner's last solo show in 2004 was Creatures of Habit at boxx gallery. It featured a series of small, sacrilegious nuns.
Legner and Campbell married in October of 2003. Her work, influenced by her tumultuous relationship with Campbell, has morphed from cheerful anime like a naked little bunny with a hard-on she likens to Burt Reynolds to paintings of nude, empty-eyed robot women with legs missing or a dream-inspired painting of a starkly white woman nude on her knees removing her red insides while origami birds peck the remains.
"My art is the only place I don't worry about what other people think. It's my home," Legner said. "I paint to get out what I can't say, be someplace I can't reach, and find a safe comfort zone again. And as long as it still feels like home, I'll continue."